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What Would It Take To Improve Your Commute?

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

In October, Washingtonpost.com’s Dr. Gridlock blog asked a very poignant question that I’ve been itching to answer for awhile now: Money or power what would it take to improve your commute?

Basically, the question is if there were no limits to how much money or power it would take to implement your ideas, what would you do?  I tried to reply on the comment board, but due to technical difficulties, couldn’t post there.  So, I decided to post my response here.  There are several ideas I would implement simultaneously because there is no “one size fits all” solution to this problem — it’s SO BIG! 

– Agree with Teacher26 on this: more strict driver education classes to teach new drivers etiquette as well as school them on the unwritten “rules of the road” (Slower Traffic KEEP RIGHT, Pass on the Left, Proper Merging Techniques, Turn Signals: They’re Not Just for Show, The Perils of Distracted Driving, How Not to Play the Part of the Idiot Driver, etc). 

– Execute a robust PSA campaign to educate already-licensed drivers who continue to practice bad driving habits and not obey the above unwritten “rules of the road”. 

– Extend all metro lines out to what is now considered the greater D.C. metro area and plan/build an additional system of metrorail lines that would allow for suburb-to-suburb commuting to/from dense urban greater D.C. metro areas. 

– Two-tier the entire length of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway/295 between cities and make both tiers three lanes each way. 

– Offer major mass transit routes to adequately connect the greater Washington D.C. and greater Baltimore metro areas together because they have both collided years ago. 

– Eliminate all HOV lanes wherever they exist as they are a waste of space. 

– Implement congestion pricing to control use of high-use roads/highways. 

– Expand high-speed rail so that we can commute to other cities up/down East Coast in two hours or less. 

– Build a tunnel from VA to MD along American Legion Bridge and add two-tier capacity to the bridge. 

– Build another tunnel connecting DC/MD for Metro’s blue line. 

– Build a 95 highway bypass so out-of-area traffic can stay off local highways.

– Incentivize more Fortune 500, 100, 50 employers to any part of P.G. County so that P.G.’s large white collar population no longer HAS to commute to Montgomery County and VA for a decent paycheck. 

– Provide more affordable family-size living options in VA and Montgomery County. 

– Implement more transit-oriented development all over using Metro as the basis.

– Mandate that employers provide more telework options whenever feasible so that there will be less need for commuting at all!  

These are just a few that I couldn’t wait to jot down.  If I gave it some more thought, I’m sure I could come up with many more — all of which are desperately needed, in my opinion, to combat what is now the worst traffic in the country

What ideas do you have?  What would it take to improve your commute?

The ICC is FINALLY Here!

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, technically, the ICC has been open since February of this year.  And I still haven’t driven it yet.  Why?  Because the limited portion that was open (Contract A – from I-270/370 to Georgia Ave) was absolutely of no good use to me. 

I – like so many others – have been waiting for Contracts B and C (from Georgia Ave to I-95) to open.  These are the ones that would make a palatable difference in my daily commute. 

As of Tuesday November 22, Contracts B and C are set to open.  Hallelujah!  The last section, Contracts D and E, are scheduled to continue construction in spring 2012.  Their opening will be determined at a later time.

While I am not at all excited to have to pay for a decent commute, I am very excited that my daily commute could be cut roughly in half from now on.  Here’s to less money in my wallet in exchange for more time back in my day!

The ICC: the Most Technologically Advanced Toll Highway in the U.S.

February 22, 2011 3 comments

The Intercounty Connector (ICC) will be unique in that it is the only all-electronic toll road in the U.S that can collect tolls at highway speed.  That’s right — there are absolutely no toll booths to collect money, so you don’t have to slow down to pay.  The ICC will use the E-ZPass system, an electronic toll collection system.  Many other U.S. toll roads already use E-ZPass nationwide, but drivers on those roads still have to slow down to about ten miles per hour or less for their E-ZPass to be read properly.

Can you imagine not dealing with the hassle of having long waits in traffic congestion to enter a toll highway?  There is another all-electronic toll road collection system currently in place in western Canada, also the first of its kind. 

How is electronic toll collection possible?

This high tech solution entails antennas “reading” the vehicle-mounted E-ZPass transponders and deducting the cost of the trip from the driver’s prepaid account.  If the vehicle doesn’t have a transponder, cameras will take pictures of the vehicle’s license plate and the owner will receive a “Notice of Toll Due” in the mail along with a $3 surcharge.

The first stretch (7.2 miles) of the ICC will now open at 6AM Wednesday February 23.  Until March 7, no tolls or surcharges will be collected.  The remaining two stretches will open later this year and by spring of next year.

New E-ZPass offices are now open in Gaithersburg and Beltsville Maryland (MVA) for those who want to sign up.  Toll prices have also been set, and they will vary depending on what time of day you pass through.  

A word to the wise: you might want to stick to the speed limit as the E-ZPass antenna reads your transponder.  If you zoom past at a higher speed than the posted speed limit, you could end up with a nasty speeding ticket.  Happy driving!

O’Malley’s Light Rail or Ehrlich’s Bus Rapid Transit: Which One is Better for Us?

October 13, 2010 4 comments

O'Malley and Ehrlich Televised Debate 10/11/10

On one hand, you have O’Malley’s plans for light rail.  On the other hand, you have Ehrlich’s bus rapid transit system.  Which one do you think is better for Washington, D.C. metro area commuters? 

As per usual, there are plenty of pros and cons on each side.  Bus rapid transit would involve setting aside bus-only lanes (not sure if this means stealing existing lanes from automobile traffic or not) along portions of existing routes.  The light rail would be built along an existing route and would not create additional traffic

Baltimore Sun’s Michael Dresser says Ehrlich’s bus rapid transit system would be a little cheaper to build — estimates are $1.2 billion — as opposed to $1.68 billion for O’Malley’s light rail project.  However, at an estimated $5.9 billion, the annual operating costs for buses quickly turn that positive on its head — light rail would only cost about half of that — an estimated $3.2 million annually.  

Ehrlich — who is not opposed to not building anything at all — says the money is simply not there to build.  Light rail proponents at Maryland Transit Authority disagree, saying that money could be made available soon through President Obama’s long-term transportation bill.  

Developers, proponents of transit-oriented development, the Prince George’s County council, the Montgomery County council, and a host of area businesses like the idea of light rail because it has a permanency that rapid bus transit does not that would make it ideal for becoming hubs of future business activity, creating much-needed jobs in the area.     

There are more pros and cons of both, but I’ll stop right here.  Personally, I’m for O’Malley’s decision to go with light rail.  It would be a shame to waste almost a decade of planning and the $40 million that MTA has already invested into deciding which way to go, only to implement the more expensive of the two — or even worse — nothing at all. 

Do you have an opinion about this one way or another?  Don’t be shy – I’m very interested in learning your thoughts.

Governor Martin O’Malley Walks the Talk of Easing Traffic Congestion and Bringing Jobs to Underserved Areas

August 9, 2010 1 comment

 

Transit oriented development in Ballston Commons, Virginia

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is what Governor Martin O’Malley is embracing by moving the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) into Prince George’s County.   Transit oriented development is defined as an area with residential and/or commercial mixed-use buildings that are strategically anchored to a source of public transit, thereby maximizing its access and use. 

In an unprecedented move by O’Malley, hundreds of jobs could potentially now be held by those who live in P.G. County — something that has been long overdue.  This move is the result of O’Malley’s Smart, Green, and Growing initiative, a key component from his 2007 Executive Order to focus development around Maryland’s transit facilities.  O’Malley has invested millions in infrastructure and mass transportation, and this newest development would be the culmination of all these initiatives.

P.G. County is the most wealthy county in the U.S. that has a mostly black population.  Many residents are highly-educated and are skilled at working white collar jobs.  Yet, for decades, this county has been underserved by businesses (small and large) that could supply the kind of high-paying white collar jobs these residents are accustomed to.  P.G. County provides amenities that other surrounding counties can’t: cheaper land and commercial space, proximity to D.C., and acres of underutilized available commercial space.  This ongoing lack of business development has not been because of a lack of demand from P.G. residents.  Many P.G. County residents would absolutely jump at the chance to finally be gainfully employed in the county they live in – a luxury that Northern Virginia and Montgomery County residents have enjoyed for decades. 

This is just the start of what is to come.  Smart growth is the wave of the future, and it is the antidote to urban sprawl.  The benefits for P.G. County residents will be accumulative.  As more agencies and businesses relocate near other transportation hubs in the county, residents will reap shorter commutes, housing closer to their jobs, less pollution from traffic, less wear/tear on their cars, better health, and a better quality of life that comes with more sustainable living.

Commuting Suburb-to-Suburb Via Metro – It Wasn’t in the Master Plan

traffic congestion

Aren't you glad you're not stuck in this right now?

Are you sick of sitting in your vehicle staring at all the cars, buses, trucks, SUVs, and minivans around you while watching the Metro trains go whizzing by?  Me too.  Traffic congestion has gotten completely out of hand, and others outside the area have noticed.  Washington, D.C. has been ranked as the third-worst traffic in the country.  It is at these times that I wonder if other commuting alternatives would be better than sticking it out in traffic everyday.  

One noted way to relieve traffic congestion is through increasing use of public transportation.  But the problem in the Washington D.C. Baltimore metro area is that, depending on where you work, using public transportation is not always expedient.

I would seriously consider taking Metro to my current place of business but, to be honest, it’s just not that convenient for me — even with the subsidy my job offers.  Fact is, buses are totally out of the question because it would probably take three times longer than a car ride — in traffic.  No express buses to my destination exist.  And my job is over a mile away from the nearest Metro station — not appealing for a woman who wears heels everyday. 

But even if I decided to wear walking shoes instead, public transportation is still not a convenient solution for me.  This is because Metro was originally designed for suburban MD/VA commuting into D.C., not for suburban MD/VA commuting to other parts of suburban MD/VA.  In other words, in order for me to get to my job in Rockville, I would need to drive through traffic to get to the nearest Metro station, pay to park, ride into downtown D.C., and then ride back out into the suburbs.  To get to my jobsite, I would then need to either take a bus or walk more than a mile…not appealing, right? 

 The solution to this problem would be Metro’s purple line.  But because of major obstacles to getting the project off the ground, we do not yet know of a completion date for this light rail alternative that would connect the Orange, Green, and Red lines.

I’m all for the Purple line being part of the solution if it provides a viable alternative to sitting in traffic!  Local lawmakers really need to step up the pressure to get this project done.  If you’d like to make it your personal mantra, you can get involved by sending an email by July 23 with “yes, I support the Purple Line” in the subject line to cscott@purplelinenow.com.

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